Georgia Bulldogs excited to finally put up some shots in Stegeman Coliseum

ATHENS — Blue Cain and R.J. Melendez signed with Georgia basketball this past spring. They did so without the benefit of seeing the court on which they’d be playing for the Bulldogs.

They finally did Monday. For the first time since Stegeman Coliseum was closed for construction in March, the shiny hardwood in the center of the 60-year-old facility was available to the players.

Most of the Bulldogs were able to get up some shots at an informal shootaround Monday morning. Later in the afternoon, Georgia conducted its first official practice of the 2023-24 season in the facility.

“Today was the first day,” said Cain, a four-star recruit out of IMG Academy by way of Knoxville, Tennessee. “Got some shots up. Felt great.”

Said Melendez, a transfer from Illinois: “I worked out (Monday) in Steg. It was really good to be able to get back in the stadium again. It looked great. Felt great to get in there and take some shots in my new home.”

Everyone will be back in the building Friday night when the men’s and women’s basketball programs hold the annual “Stegmania” exhibition on the occasion of the opening of fall practices. A student-only event, it will feature scrimmages, slam-dunk and 3-point shooting contests and live musical acts.

The Bulldogs will have only a short time to get ready for the season. Coach Mike White’s second team has an exhibition game against Eastern Kentucky on Oct. 30. They open the season Nov. 6 against Oregon in Las Vegas in the Naismith Hall of Fame Series. The home opener comes four days later against Wake Forest.

“It’s a long season; we’ve just got to take it day-by-day,” said Melendez, a 6-foot-7 transfer from Illinois. “We’ve got to make sure that we’re locked in for these big games we have early in the season and don’t make mistakes.”

Melendez is one of five transfers White brought in after last season’s 16-16 record. While the Bulldogs were unable to lock down a postseason bid, that represented a 10-win improvement over the previous season.

Melendez is the only one of Georgia’s new players to have played in the NCAA Tournament last season. Coming back from an injury that sidelined him most of the season, Melendez recorded 10 points, six rebounds, three assists and a steal while playing 26 minutes without a turnover in a loss to Arkansas. He averaged 6.0 points and 3.5 rebounds while starting 18 games and playing 21 minutes per game, and shot 83.8% from the free-throw line over two seasons.

Melendez, a native of Puerto Rico, is one of two Georgia players to play for his country’s team on the international level this summer. Matthew-Alexander “M.A.” Moncrieffe competed for his home country of Canada.

Cain was one of the Bulldogs’ top high-school signees in a class of freshmen that was ranked No. 18 by Blue’s family is full of Division I athletes. His dad, Chris, played golf at Duke from 1988-91, his mom, Myriah (Lonergan), played basketball at George Washington from 1992-96 and is in the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame. His sister, Sophie, is a senior setter on the volleyball team at Appalachian State.

The name “Blue” actually is Cain’s middle name and was given to him by his father in homage to his alma mater.

“He always said if he had a son, he’d name him Blue,” Cain explained. “I have three sisters, so whenever I came, he named me Blue.”

The Bulldogs are one of only three programs in the country to have both of their newcomer groups ranked among the top 20 nationally by The outlet tabbed Georgia’s transfer class at No. 11 and the freshmen at No. 18. Georgia also returns six players from last season’s team

The goal, the Bulldogs don’t mind saying, is to get Georgia to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015.

“I feel like the coaches have a really good plan for us, and we’ve got a really good chance,” Melendez said.

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